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Five tools for turbocharging your law firm interview preparation – don’t be nervous about Day Zero anymore

Is the thought of appearing in a law firm interview on Day Zero making you panic? Are you clueless about what will be asked in a written test or a telephonic interview for a top Indian law firm?

While most students have a fair amount of time to prepare for their recruitment interviews or written tests, they are in a state of mental frenzy, tension and agony all the time. Irrespective of how much time you spend preparing, somehow the anxiety never abates until the interview is over. The reason this happens is probably because many students do not realize what to prepare, and when they do realize it, they are completely lost with respect to how to prepare. The necessary mix for success appears to be scattered in corporate law books, news articles and a myriad set of regulatory law, all of which is extremely difficult to fathom all at once.

What many students often do not realize is –

There are a finite number of tools, accessible to all, which can help you learn the necessary information for success in a law firm interview. 

This post mentions four tools you can use to give a quick power boost to your interview preparation.

#1 – Master Circulars from RBI

Banking and financial activity in India is very heavily regulated by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI). As a corporate lawyer you will often be referring to regulations, circulars, notifications and guidelines issued by RBI on various banking-related issues – situations where you are required to refer to the Banking Regulation Act or the Reserve Bank of India Act will be very few.

Tracing various policy developments on an issue through numerous circulars and notifications of the RBI can be a tedious task – to simplify this exercise, RBI releases consolidated instruments numerous banking-law related issues on an annual basis. These are called “Master Circulars” and contain a coherent collection of RBI’s directions on specific topics. The master circulars are available on the following link:


The most important master circulars to read are:

1.      Master Circular on Foreign Investment in India

This is extremely useful (along with the FDI Policy, see below) while dealing with investment and M&A transactions, which are the bread and butter of law firms.

2.     Master Circular on External Commercial Borrowings and Trade Credits

This is extremely useful while dealing with foreign loan transactions (a lawyer working in the “Banking and Finance” practice in a law firm needs to know this inside out).

3.    Master Circular on Direct Investment by Residents in Joint Venture (JV)/ Wholly Owned Subsidiary (WOS) Abroad

This is extremely useful while dealing with overseas investments made by Indian companies, a trend which is increasing with Indian companies investing in or acquiring foreign businesses.

Latest versions of all the above Master Circulars can be found at http://mastercirculars.rbi.org.in

#2 – Website of the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion

The Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP) is responsible for releasing the regulatory policy (and updates) pertaining to foreign direct investment in India. The Consolidated FDI Policy (which is now released once every year) released by the DIPP is a commercial lawyer’s bible to M&A and investment-related transactions (the current FDI Policy for 2013 is available here. Any subsequent developments to the policy in a particular year are covered by way of “Press Notes”. For example, the developments on FDI in retail were covered under various Press Notes in 2012 (links to the Press Notes can be obtained from the DIPP website.
#3 – Regulations on SEBI website

Capital markets, M&A and the General Corporate practice in a law firm frequently deal with various SEBI Regulations from time to time. The two most commonly used regulations are the Issue of Capital and Disclosure Requirements Regulations (you can at least go through the definitions) and the Takeover Regulations.

For advanced reading: Other regulations you could go through are the Mutual Funds Regulations, Stock Brokers and Sub-Brokers Regulations, Alternative Investment Funds Regulations and the Investment Advisers Regulations.
#4 – RSS feed updates from RBI and SEBI

Once you know the basics, how can you stay updated on the latest developments in banking and securities laws?

The best way is to subscribe to RSS feeds in a reader. Subscribing to RSS feeds also enables you to follow issues as they evolve and hence develop a deeper understanding, which is much more helpful as compared to last minute preparation. The feed addresses for updates from RBI and SEBI are listed below:
Copy-paste the following links into your reader – you can use Google Reader till June 30, 2013, after which it will no longer be available as Google plans to withdraw the application.

#5 – The Holy Trinity of blogs and websites for business law enthusiasts in India

Knowledge of international (and Indian) M&A, capital markets and financial transactions can be quite important – if used correctly in an interview, it can demonstrate awareness of contemporary business developments and a deeper understanding of the issues at hand.

Where should you look for the important developments? Reading business newspapers (‘pink newspapers’) can be quite inefficient – While business newspapers are useful for senior officers and industry professionals, an uninitiated law student may need to track them continuously for months before he or she can start making sense of things in a way that is useful for a corporate lawyer. The internet is fairly unstructured, and not knowing what to look for or where to look is one of the biggest problems faced by law students.

Fortunately, there is a simpler and more organized method of acquiring relevant knowledge of commercial developments – all you need to do is to follow 3 websites.

1. The New York Times Deal Book (for international transactions)

Knowledge about contemporary international transactions – the scale, number and variety of the transactions can enable you to substantiate the motives of commercial actors and regulators with appropriate examples in an interview. The New York Times DealBook enables you to know about the latest cross-border M&A transactions in US, EU and the UK in an instant. Some of the descriptions are extremely simple and easy to grasp. It is also my personal favourite for cross-border transactional information.

2. Moneycontrol (for Indian commercial developments)

Moneycontrol is a great site for updating yourself on news pertaining to commercial and regulatory developments (in commercial law) in India. It has a special component, called The Firm (also aired on television) which essentially contains interviews with senior partners of India’s largest law firms and general counsels of blue-chips on regulatory developments affecting businesses. Unless you have relatives in multiple law firms or a journalist covering legal news on a daily basis, The Firm is a great place to read about the impact that specific regulatory developments have had on businesses.

3. Indian Corporate Law

So far, what was demonstrated was the ability to understand and keep track of regulatory developments. What about displaying some analytical skills? How can you demonstrate the ability to (constructively) argue and think as a lawyer? How can you show depth in your understanding of commercial laws (not constitutional law)? Are these skills important?  Many students are aware of latest developments, and some can analyse constitutional law or criminal law provisions fairly well. However, when it comes to framing an argument on a provision in commercial law (say, the Companies Act or the Income Tax Act), most students flounder, which is largely owing to lack of initiation and prior training in the subjects. While the domain “The Firm” of Moneycontrol contains a practical analysis, the Indian Corporate Law blog is a great way to start sharpening your ability to analyse and understand provisions of commercial law.

Optimizing your usage of Indian Corporate Law

The Indian Corporate Law Blog frequently contains a critique of various judgments and orders of regulatory authorities. The posts on the Indian Corporate Law blog can be fairly technical (if you are uninitiated) and often law students stop following the blog systematically very soon. Hence, knowing how to use the blog is very important.

At a law firm, you will usually NOT engage in exercises which debate the quality of judgments/ orders, but will be more considered about the existing position of law on a particular issue, and whether there is consistency in the legal position in different parts of the country. For this inquiry, I recommend using the Indian Corporate Law blog for information about updates and new developments. You need not follow each and every line of argument in a post. After reading the article, it may make sense to read the actual case, or some simpler articles to understand the basics. You may read the post in greater detail (and you could even participate in discussions with authors, who are all very helpful) if you feel interested, but it is not necessary from the point of view of interview preparation.

How much preparation time do you need? What all do you need to learn?

Unfortunately, utilizing the tools mentioned above effectively is a very different task from, say, reading the whole of Avtar Singh, because the impact of using the information on the New York Times DealBook blog in an interview can be phenomenal. You should remember that you are using the tools not to learn about each and every transaction that has taken place in the world, but ‘to get a hang of’ commercial transactions, which is a demonstrable attribute in an interview. You can mention in the interview about what you read on a particular transaction and the issues that different stakeholders were grappling with. On the other hand, if you read a book, you can only say, for example, that you have read ‘Avtar Singh (or the name of the book you read)’, but it will be very difficult to demonstrate a grasp of practical issues. In all likelihood, you may know about statutory provisions or obscure cases but not their implications, which is not good enough. In addition, reading a commentary may be extremely time-consuming and not half as exciting as reading about real life problems. Hence, we emphasise on using a mix of tools such as blogs and master circulars instead of commentaries on the Companies Act.

If you start reading materials on the above tools carefully, you should start noticing a significant difference in your understanding of commercial law in as little as two weeks.

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